The WhatCounts Blog
Everything you need to know about smart, personalized email marketing.
The science of email testing: It’s a topic a lot of marketers struggle with for a variety of reasons: There’s no time to do it in an already hectic schedule, they don’t know how or what to test in their email campaigns, it’s just too hard to set up. The list goes on and on. But the benefits far outweigh the challenges: Create program-specific benchmarks, engage customers, and grow your bottom line.
In the last week or so, I’ve received a few questions from marketers about A/B testing their email programs. Here are my best answers to those queries.
Q: What percent do you consider a significant difference in testing open or click-through rate to determine success or not?
First, sample size is important: The more subscribers you test on, the more confidence you can have in your results. For a list that has 400k subscribers, look for at least a 10 percent lift in whatever metric you’re tracking. For example, if my email has a 15 percent open rate, a 10 percent lift would be a 16.5 percent open rate. Anything less than a 10 percent lift (or loss for that matter) falls in the realm of inconclusive.
Q: If I send a newsletter on the same day every week and want to test new days to send, should I expect a lower open rate because my new customers are expecting it on a certain day? If yes, when should I expect positive results?
For most A/B tests, you’ll probably see a higher open rate than usual right away…on a different day of the week than when you usually send. If you haven’t tested sending day in a long time, it’s likely your subscriber base has changed and they prefer to see emails on a different day. That being said, a marketer recently told me she completed a best-day-to-send test, and found her customers liked the regular send day best because they’d come to expect it then. Every email program is different, so subscriber reactions to day-of-the-week tests will be different.
If you don’t see positive results right away it’s quite likely that you are either:
- Already sending on the day that happens to be most convenient
- Have conditioned your subscribers to expect the email on a certain day
If you have your subscribers so conditioned they are looking for your weekly email, then you probably don’t want to mess with that.
Q: I remember back in the day, it was said a two-three percent response (click-through rate) was great. What should email marketers expect from their campaigns in general? Or does it vary greatly by industry?
It doesn’t just vary by industry, it varies by individual organization. Every company has a different subscriber list, and those subscribers will give you different response rates than even a similar company in your industry. There are so many variables at play that comparing your email metrics to another program is next to meaningless. Focus on surpassing your own bests and setting your own benchmarks, rather than comparing your metrics to benchmarks you might find in a whitepaper.
This isn’t quite in the realm of testing, but even within one company’s email program, simplistic benchmarks can conceal the full picture, especially when looking at rate. For example, when you prune inactive subscribers from your list (which you should be doing frequently) your rates will automatically increase even if you haven’t increased overall engagement. For this reason, I find it most helpful to focus on improving the metrics that aren’t going to fluctuate due to list hygiene: unique opens, total click-troughs and click-to-open rate.
Q: Have you ever encountered a chosen winner in an A/B split test ultimately having a lower open or click rate than the loser? What could be the cause of this?
This definitely happens. The cause is simple: Your subscribers don’t like it. It’s a simple case of marketers creating content and designs they love – trusting their intuitions – instead of understanding what their subscribers want. But that’s why you test! When your subject line, from name, design, or other testing variable loses, you’ve gained a little more information about your subscribers’ preferences.
A real life example occurred with a client recently. They tested a new header font in their email, and although the test version had a very slightly higher click-rate, it was not significant. They decided not to unleash a major change on their subscribers based on an inconclusive result.
Does a subject line containing only the name of your company result in more conversions? I would be concerned a subject line such as that may have an ambiguous meaning; people may click it thinking it contains one thing, and then be disappointed when the content is something else.
You’re right, it may be a little ambiguous; however, if a specific subject line hasn’t been getting the job done, it’s worth a test. Hopefully, you’re following best practices with your opt-in form and welcome email. Subscribers have opted in to receive your emails and they’re familiar with your company name.
This question is a great reminder that it’s important to always focus on user experience, and not ever mislead subscribers or set expectations you can’t meet.
For more testing strategies and to see innovative A/B tests, grab the recording of Take Your Email Marketing Back to School: The Science of Email Testing.
Digital Marketing Coordinator, WhatCounts
There are some things that make life better. Fridays and flowcharts are two of those things.
Everyone can use an opportunity to playfully judge his or her approach to email marketing. Go from point A to whatever your point B is and discover what to do next in your journey to email marketing success. Whether you’re just starting to figure out how to send emails or you’re a seasoned pro, there’s always more to learn and improve on when it comes to the world’s top ROI-producing channel.
If your last step on this flowchart was “Ask us!” that means shoot me or some of my email strategy friends an email.
They’re probably right. I’m obsessed with sending only the best messages to people, whether it’s a marketing email or just a regular old reply in my Gmail inbox. Email is the most powerful communications channel today. Send a good message, make a good impression. Send a bad message, make an arch-enemy.
With that in mind, I thought I’d share my five secrets to send a stellar email.
1. No rushing allowed
If your marketing is anything like mine, you’re sending out one or two main emails a week. Those are important messages going to customers, prospects or both. Put time into them. I start creating our weekly newsletter a week before it goes out: Planning the content, reaching out to internal contributors, choosing images, and honing the copy to perfection. When I think it’s ready, I ask myself: Does this email appeal primarily to me or to my subscribers? If it’s the former, I change it to the latter.
Starting to put your marketing emails together early will allow you to create a timely, relevant message that will appeal to subscribers. It will also give you time to complete the other six steps.
2. Proofread it
Whether it’s a marketing email, a reply to a customer request, or an internal shout-out to the team, it pays to proofread. There are a variety of checklists available to help you weed out misspellings, grammatical issues and other errors (my hero is Grammar Girl). Find one and use it. Proofreading will help you avoid sending a sheepish correction email when you’ve messed up – and we’ve all unwillingly been there.
3. Have other people proofread it
Did you think you were done with checking for errors? Technically you are, but it’s time to enlist the help of friends and colleagues. You know as well as I do when you’re looking at copy too long, your eyes tend to glaze over. Other people will be able to pick out mistakes you missed. My sister and I routinely read each other drafts of work and personal correspondences; most of the time, we find glaring blunders the other missed.
For marketing emails, I employ a taskforce of colleagues from various departments to preview what I’ve put together. They often shoot back valuable insight and improvements – they’re the best!
4. Test it multiple times on multiple devices
Before I hit the send button on any marketing email, I make sure to look at a live test version. And although our platform has the capability to update links once an email is sent, I still click every single linked item in the test email. I re-read the copy, check to make sure included dates are correct, and hover over images to ensure alt text is present.
Thankfully, our wonderful design and campaign production services team produced a responsive design for our marketing emails. That means I can design the HTML, and it will convert to a different, mobile-friendly design when I view it on my iPhone. However, I always make sure to look at the design on my phone to make sure images and copy are showing up as they’re supposed to.
Taking the time to make sure everything displays properly and works right is just plain polite.
5. Ask for help
Repeat after me: You can’t do everything. If you’re anything like me, you want to figure out why that image won’t load or why your list disappeared or how to implement a cool new template all on your own. But if you can’t figure it out and that marketing email sends, subscribers may feel subconsciously slighted.
A significant part of email etiquette – and life – is knowing when you can’t do something and asking for help. My team can tell you I do it all the time. They are much smarter than I am in many areas, and leveraging their knowledge compliments them.
Many of these experiences I’ve had to learn the hard way, over a long time of sending. If these tips help just one person pause and commit to send better emails, I’ll consider my mission accomplished.
It’s that time again—we’ve been busy curating our favorite digital marketing articles from the past few weeks (amongst doing a few other things, like prepping for our awesome lifecycle UI workflow release), and we want to share them with you. Read on to increase your digital marketing knowledge.
How to Integrate Social Media Into Your Email Marketing Campaigns | Business2Community
You can go ahead and add social media and email marketing to your list of famous pairs—having one without the other leads to a less than stellar marketing strategy. But many of the benefits garnered from maintaining a robust social program are often overlooked by email marketers, who cling to the fact that email alone holds the highest ROI of any marketing channel. Some of these often ignored benefits are highlighted in this article on Bussiness2Community; including how social media can validate your data, help with segmentation, and with personalizing content for your email communication.
After a nice long holiday weekend last week, it was a great feeling to come back to work refreshed and rejuvenated. If your marketing campaigns need some revitalization, too, this article is for you. Read to find 4 noteworthy tips for how to keep things current with your email program. As a company who preaches all things email, we definitely approve of this list. Plus, the article includes a host of links to industry-leading sources of information that you can peruse after reading the article.
10 Things Every Marketer Should Know About A/B Testing | KISSmetrics
Here at WhatCounts, we love talking about A/B Testing. We even had a webinar on testing last Thursday, which you can catch up on via our website.
This article, written by Nicki Powers for KISSmetrics, explains how A/B testing will help you increase conversion rates on your website—a feat all marketers are consistently striving to achieve. What’s especially great about this article is that the ten tips introduced can also be applied to your email strategy.
Why Your Email Marketing Needs to Get Personal | MarketingProfs
It is easy to observe that personalization is becoming the modern-day standard for interaction of all styles. This article goes over some mind-blowing statistics about how many companies aren’t making use of personalization, and how this void in their communication is sincerely hurting their business. This is a good read on why it is critical to be sending relevant, personalized emails.
Prep For Email Segmentation To Reap These 3 Benefits | Marketing Land
So, you’ve earned yourself some bragging rights for your vast subscriber list, but how much do you really know about them? As many email marketers come to find, extensive data is the key to being successful with your subscribers—and this applies for all list sizes.
Today, marketers need to know how to effectively target subscribers, and you accomplish this by collecting all the information you can get your hands on. In order to get this information, you’ll want to start gathering data at the beginning. This article will walk you through three solid reasons (in case you weren’t already sold) on why you need to be gathering data from square one.
Fill us in on your favorite digital marketing articles from the past few weeks by commenting below or tweeting at us!
Marketing Coordinator, WhatCounts
By now, most marketers have realized that email is one of the best channels to impact potential customers, current customers, and even lost customers. In fact, email marketing has consistently ranked as the best channel in terms of return on investment. Additionally, I’m sure most professionals can attest to checking their email multiple times a day, so we know if done properly, email can make a definite impact.
But these facts are not kept under lock-and-key. Email is not a secret weapon that only the savviest marketers know about. Instead, email is increasingly becoming a mainstay in practically everyone’s marketing mix. Because of this, standing out in the inbox amongst the onslaught of other emails is crucial, not to mention difficult.
One method which has seen a great deal of success, not to mention a down-right positive response from customers, is directly personalized emails.
Personalized emails have confirmed themselves to be successful. In fact, personalization can deliver up to 6x higher transaction rates; proving that they have a well-deserved place in your email marketing mix. One type of personalization that is worth testing on your audience is sending emails from a personal email address, opposed to the brand address. For example, instead of sending an email with the personalization confined to the first name of the recipient, up the ante by sending it from the name and email address of a sales or marketing professional at your company.
Here is an example from our partner, Movable Ink.
Let’s walk through the fundamentals that must be considered when crafting, scheduling and sending this specific type of personalized message.
Just because you are sending an email from a personal email address, does not mean you’re free to ignore compliance standards. If you are sending commercial or transactional messages to a group, you need to include a clearly marked opt-out/unsubscribe link. You also need to include your physical mailing address to notify recipients where you are located. Finally, you will also want to ensure the email address you are sending from has been approved by the manager of that account. It is important that this email address is valid and that there is someone on the other side that will receive any responses to the email, and be able to answer in a timely fashion. To that note, it is ideal to send from a familiar address that readers will recognize; this is a benefit to you, as subscribers will be much more likely to open your email.
Typically, the thought behind sending from a personal email address is that you want the email to appear as if it was actually written and sent from that person, and not from an automation tool. Achieve this by keeping your message simple and clean—essentially appearing as a plain text email. You want to make the recipient feel that this is a natural conversation with another person. Keep images at a minimum—in fact, it is preferable to exclude images all together for this approach.
When designing your email, you will want to consider how to include the physical mailing address and opt-out link to where it is not hidden, but is discreet, so it does not take away from the essence of your email. An option could be to pop this information right into the persons email signature.
The best way to determine how often to send this type of email is (surprise!) to perform some testing and see what responds—how often is too much and what is just right. Although sending group emails from a personal send address is likely to earn you some extra high open rates, you most likely do not want to employ this format on a regular basis—it may lose some of its luster if it is your most common style of email.
Instead of going all in, test out the waters on noteworthy scenarios, such as an event your company is hosting, or a really useful whitepaper. See what happens when you send a personalized email three times in a row for one event, and then scale back to once out of three times for the next event.
When crafting your subject line, it makes sense to ditch the marketing speak. Personally, when an email is coming from a “person,” but the subject line is blatantly promotional, I immediately catch what’s going on and am much less likely to open the email. For emails coming from a personal address, the draw is often in the simplicity and personal nature of the email, not necessarily an attention grabbing subject line (which would be a must for a most other email sends).
So, next time you are looking for a successful method to make an impact in the inbox, test out sending from a person over the brand, and see how it performs.
Marketing Coordinator, WhatCounts
Do you ever wish there was an easy way to view your email designs on every screen size available?
It’s no secret: of course you do.
Mobile viewership of email is skyrocketing, going head-to-head with desktops. The problem isn’t that we don’t know hand-held devices are here to rule the world. It just seems as if there are countless versions of screen sizes to design for, including giant phones and mini tablets.
Your first response should be to narrow down the results of the most popular devices used to view your emails. You can usually find this in the reporting section of your email service provider. Work on responsive designs, or at the very least mobile-friendly layouts, that works best with those screens.
Now it’s time to preview your emails on those devices, and you don’t have to make a trip to Best Buy to do it.
The best-kept secret for previewing emails on multiple devices is actually a simple feature in the Google Chrome browser. Gasp!
It’s not fancy, but it gets the job done. The process is simple:
- Open the .html file with your email’s HTML content in Chrome. One way to do this is by selecting the “view in browser” link.
- Right click and choose Inspect Element from the dropdown menu.
- Hit the ESC key on your keyboard.
- Click on the Emulate tab.
- From the dropdown, choose the device screen size in which you want to see your email.
Important: Refresh the screen before you choose a new screen size to emulate. Otherwise, you’ll be SOL.
Done! Your email will appear as it does on the chosen device, including any responsive design you’ve built into it.
And if you want your emails to be responsive, (and super engaging), but you’re not sure how to get started, just hit us up. We’ve got your back.
If you’ve ever moved, you know it takes a long time to unpack and get everything in order. Lots of stuff gets lost in the shuffle between the old place and the new. You almost always find one of those lost items a few months after the move, dust it off, and find a new place for it.
A website redesign is a lot like a move. You pick up all of the existing content on your website and throw it into a whole new space, where the old styles, formats, forms and other whatnot may not fit. Landing pages accidentally get left behind. Important features of your website disappear and you have to dig through your “boxes” of content and code to find them. It can take a long time to get your website up-and-running the way it was before the redesign.
Speaking from experience, this kind of thing happened to us when we redesigned our website earlier this year. And about a month ago, we rediscovered a long-missed feature: the popup email opt-in form.
We’d used the popup feature on and off on our old site. There’s a lot of controversy about the effectiveness of popups, also known as light boxes. There’s no doubt people find them annoying, seeing as they do that “popping up” action when subscribers hit websites. What many marketers believe is that the annoyingness leads to negative actions, such as someone leaving their site.
When we reinstated our popup, we wanted to see if these doubting Thomases were right, or if the irritating aspects of the hovering opt-in would get people to take a positive action, such as follow the call-to-action and say yes to receive our email newsletter.
The first step was to design a popup that matched our website redesign, give a value proposition (We Love Email!), and include a call-to-action: Sign up. Next, we released it into the wild to see what it would do. We checked back in a little over a month’s time to see how it was fairing.
The results? We’d received a little over 1,300 new subscribers since the addition of the popup to the website. In the year before the popup went live on our website, we received just 2,058 new subscribers via the website.
Talk about finding hidden gold in the leftover website “moving boxes”!
So do popups work for email subscriptions? Definitely. Are they still annoying? They can be, but there are ways to make them less so. For example, we adjusted the settings on our popup so visitors only see it a maximum of three times.
It has become the digital glue for social, mobile and web. It has an ROI of up to $44, more than any other channel at your disposal. It’s constantly reinventing itself, in the last few years delivering amazing relevance to subscribers through dynamic content and real-time personalization.
Email: Marketers love it for all these reasons and they’re secure in investing in it because of its proven worth.
As a mature communications channel, there is no mystery to email success: Lifecycle marketing is the name, engaging customers is the game. More and more marketers are finding success with personalization and a lifecycle approach to email marketing.
But what exactly is lifecycle marketing?
Lifecycle marketing is, when it comes down to it, a holistic approach to your marketing strategy.
It walks customers along a path, from when they first see your brand name to when they’re making their third or fourth purchase. Instead of taking into account the content you want customers to see, lifecycle marketing refocuses your messages to concentrate on what readers want to see. Today’s smart marketers leverage automation to send dynamic emails to subscribers at the appropriate stage of their relationship with the brand.
But why is it so important to develop this philosophy of nurturing an ongoing relationship with subscribers?
Lifecycle marketing wins because today’s subscribers expect personalized messages – content that speaks to where they live, what they’ve bought before, and what they’ve told you they like to see. When you use the lifecycle approach to send these relevant, timely messages to subscribers, return-on-investment increases considerably.
The results speak for themselves: Lifecycle marketing, and in particular email, is the way to grab subscribers’ attention, create brand loyalty, and drive the bottom line.
The 5 Stages of the Lifecycle Framework
The lifecycle framework is divided into five stages representing a person’s journey from first brand touch to complete disengagement. Additionally, several campaigns and content techniques support each stage.
1. Acquire: Identifying your audience is the first step in the acquiring stage of the lifecycle. You cannot draw in potential customers if you don’t know who they are. Once you know who your audience is, capture their attention through search, email signup, social media awareness, and refer-a-friend campaigns.
2. Convert to Customers: You’ve got prospects’ attention, now set expectations for your brand and content with a welcome email. Next, create incentives to purchase by sending a first-purchase email, sending a shopping cart abandonment email, and tracking browser behavior to drive a behavior-based message.
3. Captivate and Grow Customers: Your job isn’t done after someone makes a purchase. Now you must influence customers to stay engaged with your brand and buy again. Show reciprocity through loyalty program emails, persuade customers you’re like them by upselling and cross-selling, and employ auto-response campaigns to personalize transactional messaging.
4. Retain Active Customers: Don’t forget about customers who’ve been around for a while. It’s important to keep them in the loop by sending anniversary emails, email newsletters and apology emails when needed. Create and optimize a preference center so your long-time subscribers can always give you more information about themselves. Most importantly, identify and reward brand evangelists.
5. Win Back Inactive Customers: When customers disengage with your brand, it’s important to reach out to them. Returning customers are valuable, so reactivate customers’ interests with re-engagement and win-back email campaigns.
Email is the Key to a Successful Lifecycle Framework
You may have noticed email takes a primary role in each stage of the lifecycle framework.
Although other channels aid in customer engagement, email is the digital glue that brings them together to create a cohesive strategy. Email is the world’s preferred communications channel, and as such, creates an easy way to connect with your customers and create the conversations essential to lifecycle marketing.
What’s more, email marketing is measurable.
This means you have the ability to analyze each stage of the lifecycle to understand what’s working and what parts customers aren’t engaging with. When customers are fully engaged with your messages, you create a personalized, ongoing relationship with them. However, you can’t create or maintain this relationship by sending simple e-blasts to your entire list.
Instead, you must leverage the capabilities of different types of personalized emails to drive every stage of your lifecycle campaigns. Then you’ll see a boost in ROI on email.
If you’d like to learn more about lifecycle marketing, download our new guide.
This Monday, we wanted to provide you with some articles from across the web that focus exclusively on email, because hey, we love email! So, kick off your week with a glance at six of our favorite email marketing articles from the last couple of weeks.
How Are Email Marketers Handling the Shift to Mobile? | Marketing Land
“Email messages are more likely to be opened on a smartphone than a PC”… let that sink in. Mobile is huge for email marketers. Read this article to find some interesting statistics, including how many companies are adapting to mobile, and how to successfully optimize your emails.
Email is Still the Best Thing on the Internet | the Atlantic
All those out there who aren’t fans of email should probably read this article. Email isn’t dead, and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. This article, posted by The Atlantic, goes into detail about the direction of email and why exactly it is the primary means of direct social communication on the Internet.
B2B Email Marketing: How a global information company transformed from batch-and-blast to persona-driven email marketing | MarketingSherpa
IHS, the company featured in this case study, had a subscriber prospect database that needed to increase in growth and engagement. Watch/read about this case study, conducted by MarketingSherpa, which explains some of the drastic (and downright bold) moves IHS made when moving from a batch-and-blast mentality to a strategy founded on personalization.
The Deadly Sins of Email Marketing | Business 2 Community
This article offers a high-level overview of eight key things to consider when creating your next email campaign in order to avoid sending an email that won’t perform.
The Best Path to the Inbox: From Decisions to Delivery | MarketingProfs
Sending successful emails is no easy feat. According to this article via MarketingProfs, two of the key components that determine the success of your email are the “two D’s of email marketing: decision and delivery.” This article explains this concept and the various components that make up successful decisions and delivery.
Don’t Just “Bolt on” Email | ClickZ
It is remarkable to hear about companies who don’t think email needs the same strategic process that other elements of marketing receive. This article from ClickZ recounts a firsthand experience with a brand that had this mindset, and then gives suggestions on when and how you should factor email into an overall marketing strategy.
Marketing Coordinator, WhatCounts
Earlier this month, Joy Ugi wrote about Google’s official wide release of the “automatic unsubscribe” link. This link, placed at the top mail displayed in the Promotions, Social or Forum tabs, allows the user to request to unsubscribe from mailings immediately. The feature was announced in February, but just made official on August 6.
In the wake of this announcement, many marketers are worried this link will diminish their list size, slashing the reach of their promotional emails. At WhatCounts, we see this as a positive change instead of a cause for alarm, and here’s why.
It’s been happening for months
Since the Gmail team announced the live beta of this feature in February, the unsubscribe link has been added to many marketing and promotional messages delivered to Gmail users. If you’ve been sending mail regularly for the past six months, the likelihood is high some or all of your messages have already been including this link. If you haven’t seen a mass exodus of subscribers during this time, it’s unlikely to start now.
It’s the law
The U.S. CAN-SPAM Act requires you to include an unsubscribe link in any promotional email. Later rulings on that law have indicated the link must also make the unsubscribe process simple to perform. Some senders begrudgingly include the unsubscribe link but try to hide it, making it hard for subscribers to locate and stop the mailings. While this may not be a direct violation of CAN-SPAM, it does open the door for legal challenges that can put a major damper on your marketing efforts.
It reduces spam complaints
In addition to aiding in legal compliance, moving the unsubscribe link to the top of the mailing has one major positive effect: It reduces spam complaints. Subscribers who flag a message as spam often do so because they simply want to stop receiving messages. If the unsubscribe link is displayed prominently at the top of the message, they are more likely to use that link instead of the Spam button. Some senders have reported a decrease of up to 75 percent in spam complaints after implementing a more prominent unsubscribe link.
It’s a best practice
One key idea to remember in all of this is that anyone who clicks the unsubscribe link doesn’t want to receive your mailings. Making the unsubscribe link more prominent only makes it easier for those people to remove themselves from your list, allowing you to avoid spending money sending email to users who aren’t interested in your messages.
On top of that, most ISPs use engagement rates to help determine how mail is filtered. Removing users who don’t engage with your messages will increase your overall engagement rates, increasing the likelihood your mail will get delivered to the inbox for the users who want to receive it.
If you have any additional questions or need more information, please don’t hesitate to contact the WhatCounts Support team for assistance.
Subscribe to our Newsletter!
Enter your email address below to sign up for the WhatCounts Weekly, our newsletter!
Get email marketing ideas, strategies, tips, and tricks every Thursday when you subscribe.
Download our Newest eBook!
57 Tips for Growing Your Email List
Your email list is your most valuable marketing asset. Grow it today.
From the Blog
Learn digital marketing tips, tricks and strategies from some of our top blog posts:
The ABCs of Email Testing: Learn about top strategies for testing your emails.
5 Easy Tips to Make Your Subject Lines Stand Out: Get noticed in the inbox with these subject line tips.
The One Thing You Should Never, Ever Do: Keep your email marketing program healthy by following this one, easy-to-do tip.